When sitting behind the kit for grindy outfit Sete Star Sept, no one would question drummer Ryosuke Kiyasu’s indomitable skill. Just listen to him blast:
But when he’s not obliterating a drumkit at hummingbird speeds, Kiyasu is taking his music in an utterly different direction, putting on some of the most polarizing performances in recent history. Some call it high art; others find it insulting to the very idea of music. Most people don’t know what to do with it, let alone how to describe it. Even I’m having a hard time putting it into words, so instead, watch for yourself:
And don’t be fooled by the tiny crowd in that video: Ryosuke Kiyasu has brought this strange, volatile solo show across country and continental boundaries for years. Using his snare drum, Kiyasu begins to peel away the silence by smashing the instrument with his sticks, slapping his face against the drum’s head, dragging the shell across the table—whatever he is compelled to do to yank sound into his space. Rhythmic rolls and syncopated stick patterns soon lapse into thuds as he lifts and drops the drum or slides it across the floor. Each performance is completely improvised and wholly non-traditional, as Kiyasu incorporates the microphone, the table, and even random objects like shoes into the performance, eliciting percussion from every available surface or material.
As a drummer, Kiyasu is impossibly precise and technical—I’m pretty sure God sets his watch to Ryosuke’s internal clock. Yet in his solo performances, all skill and structure are thrown to the wayside. Dynamics, energy, emotion—these are what drive this drummer as he slams his snare against the table or beats the shell with the mic. His focus is expression, and nothing else.
With his performances, Kiyasu interprets his time onstage through the idea of percussion. Whatever he feels or thinks in that very moment is translated into sound. Sometimes the result is a harrowing speedy triplet roll. Other times it’s scraping the snare on a wooden surface. It’s like some noise-driven version of satori—a man living wholly in the moment and expressing that moment through colliding surfaces and the music (or noise) resulting from those collisions.
It’s not hard to try and label Kiyasu’s solo sessions as “performance art,” especially when it is so minutely focused on performance. But this doesn’t just exist as a live experience in small, intimate DIY spaces across Europe—Ryosuke has pressed this to record, giving us versions of his percussive attacks that we can play again and again. Whereas in a live setting his drumming is momentary and ethereal, on record it becomes a concrete pattern we can relive and dissect.
But these recordings are not compositions to be replicated live; you’ll never hear a live rendition of “Rites of Separation” or “Formal Statement.” These single-tracked takes are as visceral, as carpe-fucking-diem as his house show sets. All the dips in dynamics and flair, the juxtaposition of rhythmic clips and chaotic drum violence, are just as real and honest and wholly beyond comprehension—they just happened to be performed with a recording mic nearby.
From my perspective, both onstage and on record, Ryosuke Kiyasu is approaching music with an open mind that most audiences cannot yet match. He is attacking the very definition of being a drummer, demonstrating that there is more to the art than just slapping sticks against skins and cymbals. Whether or not it’s his intention, Ryosuke is innovating percussion, breaking down the concept, coming up with different ways to impart beats and rhythms using the tools he has, even if that tool is his body. And I wouldn’t be surprised if some day, something he improvs in the moment becomes a new “technique” to be emulated by artists across the board.
Ultimately, no one, not even Kiyasu, can define this experience for anyone else. It’s something you buy into, as far as you like, but only if you like. So if you admire it, great! And if you abhor it, great! Ryosuke doesn’t care, and from the looks of it, this is just the first blow in his war against the boundaries of sound and performance.
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Ryosuke Kiyasu is currently finishing up a tour of Asia and Europe, and will be bringing his show to the U.S. this coming fall. Tour dates, videos and other information are available on his website. Artist photograph by Yunis Tmeizeh.